Nashville Star

Nathan Miller

Former Washburn defensive tackle Trey Lewis picked off a pass from the Tennessee Titans’ Vince Young in the Atlanta Falcons’ regular-season loss to the Titans last year 20-13. Washburn defensive back Cary Williams will have that opportunity every day in practice, as the Titans made him the 229th overall and the 22nd pick of the seventh round of the NFL Draft.

“It’s going to be a crazy experience, an unbelievable opportunity, an opportunity of a lifetime,” said Williams. “I’m certainly not going to pass up the opportunity [to intercept Young] if it happens there. Just to play, stand in the locker room with [Young] and joke with him, it will be an experience.”

The Titans had seven draft picks but Williams was the only defensive back selected. However, the Titans did acquire an Oakland Raiders restricted free agent, defensive back and kickoff returner Chris Carr, who returned 201 kickoffs for 4,841 yards in 48 games just weeks prior to the draft. In a media conference held April 27, Titans head coach Jeff Fisher said Williams would get an opportunity to play right away on special teams.

“At that point you’re looking for people who can come in and fill a spot,” said Fisher. “We have a need for a gunner and who can cover kicks. [Williams] is a guy with speed who also returns kicks and can make plays. I would assume his contribution would start in the special teams as we develop him at the corner spot.”

Williams was ranked 10th in the nation as a kickoff returner this past year with the Bods, returning 17 kickoffs for 487 yards and two touchdowns. Those accolades, among with his contributions at corner, including seven interceptions and a career-high 56 tackles, made him a consensus 2007 All-American, selected by four different publications.

Despite his accomplishments it wasn’t until March 11, when Williams participated in the University of Kansas’ Pro Day, that his draft stock became a vivid reality to NFL franchises. Williams ran a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash in front of 27 NFL scouts.

“It was a time of urgency and I needed to go out and prove myself,” said Williams. “They figured I was a 4.6 guy and I showed them that I wasn’t. That was my opportunity and I made the best out of it.”

Williams made visits to the Indianapolis Colts, Green Bay Packers and the Kansas City Chiefs. Multiple teams also contacted him by phone in the two weeks leading up to the draft. Williams expected to be taken in the sixth, but after the sixth round came and went with no phone call he said he started to worry.

“I had everything going through my head,” said Williams. “Doubt sat in, but I didn’t let it set too long. I just realized I can play on this level and I went to KU and performed well. A lot of scouts noticed that. I know there I solidified myself as a draft pick in any round.”

Williams’ confidence wasn’t helped any after the Chiefs picked another Division II cornerback from Grand Valley State, Brandon Carr, in the fifth round. To make matters worse, the Washington Redskins called to arrange a free agency deal if Williams wasn’t drafted. But it was the words of former teammate Lewis that kept Williams cool during the process.

“I asked [Lewis] a bunch of times, ‘How many draft picks does [Atlanta have]?'” said Williams. “I knew Atlanta was interested in me. ‘When am I going to get that call?’ [Lewis] said, ‘Just be patient, it will come.'”

Sure enough, a call came, but not from Atlanta. Williams will get an opportunity to play against Lewis as a Titan in a preseason game Aug. 22 at Atlanta. Lewis, who was drafted in the sixth round last year by Atlanta, was instrumental in bringing in NFL scouts to Washburn, where Williams was initially discovered.

Williams boarded a plane to mini-camp Thursday, a trip that seemed impossible when he first came to Washburn three years ago. A transfer from Fordham University, whose team he was dismissed from after one year because of conflict between him and the coaches, played in six games with just 15 tackles, two pass deflections and a fumble recovery.

“I didn’t think any of this was possible,” said Williams. “I doubted myself and the level of play I had then. I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to Washburn and this is going to be a hard road ahead.'”

In 2005 Williams sat out with a redshirt, and in 2006 he played his junior year in the shadows of another Washburn corner that was generating a lot of interest from the NFL, Fletcher Terrell. Williams started all 11 games his junior year, recording 38 tackles and four interceptions.

This past year he came out of the shadows. Along with four All-American awards, Williams led the MIAA in interceptions, earning a first-team selection at defensive back and All-MIAA kick return honors after averaging 29.2 yards a return.

“I learned one thing,” said Williams. “Regardless of where you’re at if you’re a good player, they’re going to find you. That’s what I kept telling myself through the whole process.”